I’ve spilled many a digital word on describing just what Iapetus‘ album from this year, The Body Cosmic, makes me feel so it was a no-brainer to reach out to Matthew and Jordan as our first guest list. At the end of the day, I love these lists because they give us a peek into how musicians (who often don’t have the time we as listeners have for music, since they’re busy making their own) consume the art of their fellow musicians and what they think about it. I find that these lists tend to be the most interesting when you pick a progressive or ambitious musician to do them, as they tend to have broader approaches to music.
This certainly happens to have been the case here. I’m not going to lie, I definitely saw a lot of these picks coming; entrenched as they are in the traditions of death, black, and progressive metal, some of the picks below would have made no sense absent from this list. But, I also discovered some curveballs, like the majestic ISON which appears on both lists, the love for Billie Eilish (good record, just not necessarily for me) or Eluveitie’s dominance of Matthew’s list (spoilers!) Even the picks I expected were a welcome sight and the words which both of them added to their lists gave me further insight into one of my favorite albums from this year.
Read on below for Iapetus’ picks! Their album, The Body Cosmic, released not too long and you can find it right here.
Matthew Cerami’s List
10. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
There was a time, I think, when Alcest sounded as they did not by choice, but by out of sheer necessity —because the ethereal wanderings of Neige’s imagination could not be expressed in any other way, by any other aural means. I think that time has passed; modern Alcest is dealing in more of a manufactured sound—but the continued quality of their work can’t be denied. Catchy, invigorating, skillfully crafted—Spiritual Instinct is another solid effort from the masters of atmosphere.
9. Thenighttimeproject – The Pale Season
If you’re looking to fill a Katatonia-sized void in your heart, look no further. Thenighttimeproject was founded by the Norrman Brothers (ex-Katatonia guitarist and bassist)—and their album, The Pale Season, is deeply imprinted with the qualities teased by such a resume—hypnotic, labyrinthine guitar work, expressive vocals, and melodies that hit like a drug. What they’ve made is an incredibly reserved, subtle piece of music—its qualities are not readily apparent on the first or third listen—but have patience, let the flower bloom, and you’ll be humming along in your sleep.
8. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Billie Eilish is something special—the idealized, romanticized “artist” incarnate—someone who lives their art down to the bone. The control that she has over her voice—the emotion she’s able to wring from it at 17-years-old—is astonishing (check her SNL performance of “i love you”), and her lyrical abilities surpass those of people three-times her age. More than anything, she’s been able to craft something unique—something dark, and real—within the confines of the most stale and derivative genre in musical history. “when the party’s over,” for example, is simply soul-destroying. Listen to it, you cowards.
7. In Mourning – Garden Of Storms
In Mourning have always been hit-or-miss for me—their talent is undeniable—but they’ve often danced around the line of originality without actually crossing it. On Garden Of Storms, I hear a band that has finally, fully, and triumphantly come into their own. This is a monolithic slab of progressive death metal—a towering, intricately crafted structure of bombast and soul. Garden Of Storms is a violent purging of human emotion—an utterly cathartic experience—and by the end, in all of its magnificence, creates a kind of communal exhaustion; an indelible bond between artist and consumer.
6. ISON – Inner-Space
I’ll say something here: Heike Langhans (Draconian) is the best female vocalist in metal, one of the best in metal overall, and generally just one of the best on the planet. There is something so profound, so alien, so ineffably spiritual about her voice—and for ISON to succeed as it does, it couldn’t be anything less. With the added efforts of Daniel Änghede (Crippled Black Phoenix), ISON has crafted a doom/drone/ambient masterpiece of galactic proportions—a kind of astral projection experience in musical form. This two-person project names its influence as “The vast, infinite nothing,” and in this case that description, somehow, escapes all pretention. Throw on Inner-Space if you’d like to spend an afternoon sailing through the cosmos, guided by the voice of an angel.
5. Aurora – A Different Kind of Human
Have all the elitists gone, yet? Aurora—in the same vein as Björk or Enya, perhaps—is a tiny female Scandinavian avant-garde/pop/electronic artist with the emotional resonance of a god and a voice to match. A Different Kind Of Human is mostly, I would say, world-new-age-neo-folk-infused pop, but it’s pop with a purpose, with power; sublime and transformative. It’s dangerous art. It means something. “The Seed”—my personal favorite—is a haunting, devastating track–one which serves to demonstrate both Aurora’s brilliant songwriting and her cerebral lyricism. Also of note: Aurora is one of the most physically captivating performers I’ve ever seen—a rare case in which watching immeasurably enhances the experience of listening. Would recommend picking a song, finding a video, and wondering how such a small person could possibly possess the physical presence of an army.
4. Disillusion – The Liberation
Back to Times of Splendor is one of my favorite albums of all-time—so needless to say, my anticipation for this record was very great, indeed. Honestly? I don’t know if The Liberation lives up to the heights of old, but I can say this: it is one of the most earnestly progressive, massive, and limitless pieces of music I’ve heard in quite some time. More rock opera in scope than metal, The Liberation as a title reflects an overall freedom from genre convention, from expectation, from form. This record is utterly immense, bold, visionary; an infinite, interconnected maze of shifting tones, themes, ideas, and desires. In other words, it is exactly what the band wants it to be, and nothing less—which is a stunning declaration in its own right. That Disillusion can still produce such genre-bending, forward-thinking music, after all this time, is only a testament to their legendary skill.
3. Warforged – I: Voice
I try, whenever I can, to judge a band not necessarily by the sound of their music, but by how well they can communicate an idea, express a vision, reveal part of themselves—and in that regard, I: Voice is almost impossible to beat. This is the soundtrack to a mental breakdown; the complete collapse of a mind transmitted through sound—a harrowing, malevolent, inescapable nightmare—a reality that shifts and decays and distorts further with every note. I’ve never heard anything else like it, and I don’t expect that I ever will. The sheer magnitude of this thing is incomprehensible; Warforged fit more music into two minutes than most bands do an entire album—and though the work itself is an earthly 75-minutes, by the times it’s over, you’ll feel as though you’ve spent an undefinable eternity in the void—eons of your life having ticked away, worn down to nothing by a paranoid schizophrenia that couldn’t possibly be your own.
2. Numenorean – Adore
I have serious ethical objections to Numenorean using the photo of a dead child as the cover for their first album, and for that reason I have, to this point, avoided them. I don’t think it was a malicious choice—just a horrifically misguided one. That being said, when reviews for Adore started coming out, I decided to give them a chance; to dig a bit deeper into their art, and into their ethos. I’m glad that I did. While my objections remain, I can’t deny that Adore has affected me on an emotional level—its stunning progressions, devastating climaxes, and soul-exposing intimacies having forced their way deep into the darkest parts of my brain. For me, personally, most metal seems to have lost its edge, but not this—this is raw, violent, dark, tangible—an almost religious excursion into the collective mind of its creators. Powerful beyond measure, and worth hearing at any cost.
1. Eluveitie – Ategnatos
I mean, god damnit—is the most ambitious album of the year? No. The most original? Nope. The most sophisticated? Not even close. It’s an Eluveitie album—no further description needed—and yet, my god, it has absolutely no right to be this good. This is the pinnacle of cheesy folk metal, I think—the Holy Grail—flawlessly executed, honed to perfection, and performed with razor sharp precision. Ategnatos is a lethal, infectious combination of insane melody, incredible production, cinematic bombast, and thundering, mountain-sized soul—not to mention some truly divine female vocals (I’m a sucker for ‘em). Reckless dedication to craft bleeds through every note of this album—and all manner of notes there are; from hurdy-gurdy solos, to iconic melodeath riffs, to blistering, blackened blast-beats, and to a host of straight-up death metal riffs that are somehow, inexplicably, the heaviest fucking things I’ve heard all year. There’s something to be said about an old band that has finally created its masterpiece—and in 2019, Eluveitie has done just that.
Jordan Navarro’s List
10) Wilderun – Veil of Imagination
I’m not gonna lie, I’m straight up jealous of this album. Veil of Imagination is a 70+ minute prog/folk/melodeath magnum opus, and it’s probably the boldest, most daring album I’ve heard this year. Damn you for being so good, Wilderun. They would’ve ranked higher on my list, but certain sections remind me a little too much of the bands who inspire them. The constant comparison to Opeth is definitely not unfounded – vocalist Evan Berry sounds like a carbon copy of Mikael Åkerfeldt at times, and some riffs could’ve been straight from Blackwater Park – but Veil is still an undeniable achievement that deserves your full attention.
9) Cloudkicker – Unending
I could write an essay on how influential Ben Sharp from Cloudkicker was for me – not only in terms of songwriting, but also with how I navigate the music industry. The dude is a genius in my opinion. With that said, everything he’s released since 2010’s Beacons was a little too fragmented and borderline lackadaisical to leave a lasting impression on me – except the title track on Let Yourself Be Huge, one of the most beautiful, emotional songs I’ve ever heard – so I was delighted to see Ben’s return to form on Unending. This is one of the most interesting, captivating instrumental albums I’ve heard in years.
8) Hath – Of Rot And Ruin
2019 was a strong year for progressive death metal, and Hath’s Of Rot And Ruin is one of the best displays of brutal prog death I’ve heard in quite some time. I’m getting some big Bloodbath vibes on this one, but if you think you’ve got them figured out after the first track, think again – they pepper in some truly unexpected, genre-bending passages throughout the record – all of them absolutely seamless, of course. Do yourself a favor and give this album a spin if you haven’t already. Hell, even if you have already, give it another spin and marvel at the sheer brutality of this record.
7) Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
If this were a list of “Top 10 Albums of the Decade”, Alcest’s Écailles de Lune would be a strong contender for #1. Spiritual Instinct is definitely a great album by Alcest’s standards, which are high standards indeed, but my inner audio nerd would’ve liked to hear some more interesting effects throughout the album (reverb, delay, layers, etc.). Instead, it sounds more like a live studio recording than the fully fleshed-out masterpiece I was hoping for. Even still, you can’t deny the utter brilliance of Alcest’s songwriting and melodicism. They deserve a Top 10 spot on any atmospheric metal-lover’s AOTY list.
6) Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
If you’re a fan of death metal, my god, you need to listen to this album. I’ve heard some mixed opinions about vocalist Travis Ryan’s clean (?) vocal technique, but that’s what intrigued me most about Death Atlas. I’m always a fan of layering clean vocals over traditional death metal growls, but Travis takes it into Gojira territory with his own brand of melodic screaming, and somehow elevates it to a higher octave that puts him in a league of his own. Couple that with thought-provoking thematic content and riffs that’ll leave a gaping hole where your sternum used to be, and you’ve got yourself a damn good death metal album that’ll be remembered for years to come.
5) Numenorean – Adore
This is only Numenorean’s second full-length release, and it instantly hits all the marks for being a timeless atmospheric black metal record. It’s one of those albums I’ll listen to from beginning to end, then immediately feel the urge to replay it. Adore would’ve ranked higher if I didn’t have to skip over the song “Stay” every time – it reminds me of a cheesy classic rock ballad – but I commend them for expanding the horizons of black metal further than most bands are daring to go. Bonus points for the Lord of the Rings reference in the band name.
4) White Ward – Love Exchange Failure
I’m a sucker for bands who fuse multiple genres in creative ways, and White Ward did it again with Love Exchange Failure. They’re definitely a black metal band at heart, but the ferocious combination of tremolo picking and blast beats are complimented shockingly well by the soothing pianos and breathy saxophone solos throughout the record. Certain section could have been pulled straight from a black-and-white noir set in the 1920s – who does that? White Ward continues to blaze their own trail, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
3) Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond The Dark
Guys, I can’t stop listening to this album – please send help. The album artwork is what pulled me in at first (shoutout to Mariusz Lewandowski), but the mixture of weapons-grade black metal, soaring melodies, massive clean and harsh vocals, and an absolutely crushing final track is what hooked me for good. Seriously, that last track is one of the most epic, emotional black metal songs I’ve ever heard. I was never too big into Abigail Williams before, but consider me a life-long fan now.
2) ISON – Inner – Space
I’ve dealt with pretty bad anxiety my entire life, but it all melts away when I put on Inner – Space. I’ve literally been using this album like a dose of medicine any time those feelings start to swell up from my subconscious. What Daniel Änghede and Heike Langhans were able to achieve here is nothing short of magical. All those soothing, sometimes haunting synthesizers create an unbelievably dense atmosphere powerful enough to terraform a dying planet. Not to mention, all those gorgeous melodies that soar above them. ISON weaves a perfect tapestry of music that just feels good. Also, bonus points for having Neige from Alcest provide guest vocals on the second track.
1) Warforged – I: Voice
If you’ve ever wondered what an actual nightmare would sound like in music form, look no further. I’ve honestly never heard anything like I: Voice, where the music induces the same kind of tension and unease you’d feel in a bad dream. Their lyrics are filled with nightmarish imagery of hideous faces, ghosts, demons, and this recurring “hag” character that reminds me of that goddamn bathroom scene from The Shining – you know the one. As a matter of fact, The Shining is to cinema as I: Voice is to music. There, I said it. This is truly the biggest, perhaps the only musical revelation of the year. Warforged pulled off something truly special here, and they deserve every ounce of recognition they’ve got coming.
- Mgła – Age of Excuse
- Anton Belov – Piano Works II
- Violet Cold – Kosmik
- Astronoid – Astronoid
- Teeth – The Curse of Entropy
(Not) Guilty Pleasures:
- Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding
- Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
- Dermot Kennedy – Without Fear
- Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
- Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra – I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This